The case for printed paper
An elegantly designed and smartly written monthly magazine from Milan shows why there will continue to be a need – and a market – for the printed press.
The excitement in the final minutes before a newspaper or magazine goes to press is the same everywhere - only the script is different (and maybe the dress code, too). That, at any rate, was my first conclusion after a visit a few weeks ago to an editorial office in Milan where my Italian colleagues were about to send the next issue to the printer.
Tempers were running a bit high in the editing room of IL, over the wording of the the magazine's cover headline. The cover photo had already been chosen, and it was shocking: the head of a man who has been shot and whose brains are spilling out, a victim of the drug wars in Mexico. The chief editor, Christian Rocca, and his young designer, Francesco Franchi, battled it out over the length of the words in the headline and subhead.
The issue's opening article is by the most famous writer and journalist in Italy today, Roberto Saviano, author of the book "Gomorrah," about a Neapolitan organized-crime organization. His text accompanies an exclusive and appalling series of photographs that invite readers to immerse themselves in one of the dirtiest, most savage wars currently being fought anywhere: the war being waged by the drug barons and their henchmen against the Mexican republic.
Finally, Rocca and Franchi settled on the headline "In Hot Blood." The editor was pleased; the talented graphic artist had to make a tiny concession but also got most of what he wanted.
IL (an acronym for "Intelligence in Lifestyle" ) is the monthly magazine of, and is sold along with, the leading financial paper in Italy, Il Sole 24 Ore (it is also sold separately, after the paper is published). It's a glossy publication of at least 100 pages (and sometimes twice that ), which many people, and not only in Italy, consider the handsomest newsmagazine in the world. At the annual awards ceremony of the Society of Publication Designers in New York earlier this year, IL won three awards, including a "members' choice" gold medal for the cover of its November 2011 issue.
The enthusiasm over IL's dazzling fusion between text and form is not confined solely to professionals in New York. It has sold out more than once at newsstands in Italy's big cities. That's a rare occurrence in an era in which the printed press is regularly eulogized.
Il Sole 24 Ore sells 300,000 copies a day, about a third to subscribers and the rest at newsstands. Last year, the paper, which is owned by Confindustria, the strongest employers' federation in Italy, experienced a 3-percent drop in sales. Nevertheless, a visitor to the paper's spectacular headquarters, which was designed by architect Renzo Piano, imbibes a sense of strength and innovation - not weakness and decline.
'The Atlantic meets New York'
Rocca, 44, the paper's former correspondent in the United States, has been editing the magazine (which first appeared in November 2008 ) for about six months. His philosophy with respect to IL: "The Atlantic Monthly meets New York magazine: A very opinion-oriented current affairs-based monthly magazine ... with a cultural section but also with an ironic patina of 'not taking ourselves too seriously,' covering everything in well-designed, cool packaging."
Rocca is an enthusiast. He truly believes that print journalism, or at least some of it, will survive. Indeed, he devoted a recent cover to a large-scale project, "Rumors of my death were definitely exaggerated," which offered a reasoned explanation of why the printed publications (whether newsprint or glossy ) have a future.
The statistics he cites are surprising, seemingly from another world. Still, according to the calculations of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, 2.3 billion people read the printed press every day, while 1.9 billion get their updates from the Internet. In India, the industry of dailies has increased by two-thirds in the past six years, with a further increase of 18 percent anticipated by 2014. In Latin America, newspaper sales have risen by 4.5 percent in the last five years. The English weekly The Economist achieved a circulation of 1.5 million just seven years after reaching a historic 1 million, which took 160 years to achieve. And so on.
So newspapers will survive, my Italian colleague insists as he leans over his desk just after closing another successful issue.
"There is a place for well-made, well-designed journalism," he says. "Of course, in the age of Twitter, and with the Internet, cable TV, the iPhone and the iPad, it is pointless to print magazines with news that immediately becomes old news. You have to give your readers an advantage, a reason to buy. If the reason is only to get news updates, that is no longer a good enough reason. The reason could be that the newspaper has the best opinion writers, the finest commentaries and so on."
That too might not always be enough, but it is definitely a necessary condition.
Rocca's desk is piled high with the finest magazines from all around the world. He believes in the quality of his writers, but also, and no less, in the quality of his enviable team of graphic designers. The magazine he produces is as visually stunning as it is conceptually stimulating.
"To read a magazine should be an experience," he explains. "We have art directors who are entrusted with creating genuine pleasure - when you touch the pages, when you riffle through and discover the photos. There is a place for beautiful things. In fact, this is the only way to survive."
Rocca's optimism is infectious. Still, I press him, is print like vinyl records, which became almost totally extinct with the advent of the CD, or does the printed press resemble the film industry, which survived the television and DVD revolutions?
"I like that analogy," he smiles, "and I hope and believe that we are like the cinema. A great newspaper will survive in every country, as will papers with a unique added value - local or professional - papers that give their readers what they cannot find on the Internet. And, of course, well-designed magazines, in which the reading experience is like going to a 3-D movie."
So your newborn daughter will read printed newspapers, I ask him.
"Obviously," Rocca laughs.